August 1998 // Faculty and Staff Development
Faculty, Instruction, and Information Technology
by Barbara Horgan
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Barbara Horgan "Faculty, Instruction, and Information Technology" The Technology Source, August 1998. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

While many corporations are realizing a return on their information technology (IT) investments in terms of increased productivity and effectiveness, higher education is still struggling with applying IT to its core processes: teaching and learning. Providing computers, software, networks, mediated classrooms, and user support personnel is necessary to meet this challenge, but is not sufficient. Faculty are highly autonomous. They have different levels of technical skill and interest in technology. The sheer variety of academic disciplines also prevents any quick and easy solution to integrate technology into the curriculum. One size will not fit all.

How then does an institution develop a program or set of strategies that will enable faculty to use technology to enhance teaching and learning? While no silver bullet exists, a variety of approaches can facilitate integrating technology into the classroom. Any approaches used should take care to:

  • Provide reliability, robustness, and ubiquity,
  • Initiate training in both general-purpose and discipline-specific software,
  • Start with pedagogy rather than technology,
  • Use early adopters as champions and mentors,
  • Think big: develop strategic and financial plans, and
  • Think small: templates, pilot projects, and incremental implementation

Reliable, Robust, Ubiquitous Infrastructure

According to Maslov's hierarchy of needs, human beings cannot progress to self-actualization until they have the fundamentals of food, clothing, and shelter. Similarly, faculty cannot begin to explore the uses of IT in the classroom until they are supplied with the basic tools of the trade. These include a machine capable of running current software, a variety of software applications, reliable and robust communication networks, training on the use of these tools and devices, technical support, and well-equipped classrooms. Each institution has to balance the cost of these products and services against other competing needs. If integrating information technology into the curriculum is a priority, money for these basics has to be found, often through re-allocation or technology fees.

Reliability and ubiquity of services deserve special attention. If faculty cannot count on a network connection or a projection device working, they are much less likely to use such technology. If faculty and students cannot rely on access to Internet from a lab, office, dorm room or home, faculty are not going to assign projects using the World Wide Web as often or in as much depth.

A Variety of Training Experiences

"Faculty don't attend training classes," IT staff often complain. But faculty are eager for training in the tools of information technology—at the right time and with the right incentives. Instead of classroom training, with faculty from a variety of interests and abilities all lumped in together, training should be tailored to a particular discipline or skill level. Extended training sessions are best offered during the summer, when faculty have more time. As an added incentive, free or discounted software can be provided upon completion of a training program. Online training in the use of general-purpose software is also important. Offering just-in-time training at windows of opportunity during the school year will encourage faculty to attend as they are able. Capitalize on the fact that faculty like working and learning with other faculty members. Train students to support faculty in software use, development, and Web design tasks. For specific suggestions on providing instructional support, see "Building the Faculty Support Pyramid" (1998).

Pedagogy, Not Technology

Many well-meaning efforts at integrating technology into the curriculum have failed because they begin with the technology, rather than with teaching and learning outcomes. Information technology professionals are not usually teachers, and tend to be unfamiliar with learning theory and content. For this reason, teamwork makes the most sense. Integrating technology beyond e-mail and PowerPoint into a class requires a lot of work and a variety of expertise. Teams of faculty (perhaps a few in the same discipline, communicating with their peers at other institutions), librarians, user support staff, media and instructional design specialists, and bookstore staff, for example, can combine their knowledge to integrate technology effectively. Teaching and Learning Centers, where they exist, are excellent places to locate these teams of professionals. Above all, information technology should be seen as another tool to improve teaching or learning, rather than as an end in itself.

Faculty Champions

Using faculty more proficient with the technology to support their less knowledgeable or more reluctant peers is another way to focus on teaching rather than just the technology. A faculty mentor program, with release time or other special incentives, is often an excellent way to jump-start innovation. Unless faculty are rewarded, or at least not punished, for both the mentoring and testing of new technology, many will be reluctant to take the risks and the time to develop new approaches to teaching using information technology.


The words "strategic" and "financial planning" usually conjure up images of long documents and spreadsheets never read except by those committee members who prepare them. Careful planning on integrating technology into the curriculum, however, is a key ingredient in its success. Strategic plans today need to be brief, readable, and widely circulated.

Planning must begin at the institutional level with an interactive, participative process that links the organization's goals with IT strategies. Commitment from top administration is necessary to ensure support for funding and implementation of the robust, reliable infrastructure of equipment, software tools, networks, and support services. Since everything cannot be done at once, a plan should communicate priorities and timelines, and serve as an aid to decisions regarding purchases and core services. Another advantage to having a documented strategic plan is that it can be used in obtaining support from and partnerships with corporations, other universities, and external funding agencies.

Additionally, operational plans need to be developed by the instructional technology staff in cooperation with faculty and other affected stakeholders—from the provost's office, to librarians, the bookstore, and media specialists. The focus needs to be on strategies that are replicable across the institution and the curriculum. Without this kind of planning, efforts at integrating technology are isolated, unable to provide models for other interested parties and unable to sustain themselves with adequate institutional support.

Start Small

Planning efforts identify priorities that can then be addressed by pilot projects, which are free to take risks and to fail, thus serving as learning experiments. One advantage of starting small is that large expenditures are not needed, and the risks of wasting time and money are lessened. These pilots can also develop templates, either of software tools or approaches, that can be reused in other classes without the necessary start-up efforts.

Another tactic, especially useful in a time of rapidly changing technology, is to implement projects in stages, evaluating the technology and the approach at each stage of the implementation. New equipment or software may become available at later stages that simplifies tasks or costs less. Lessons learned in one part are applied to subsequent implementations. Once evaluative instruments are being used, best practices can be documented.


Developing a shared vision of where to go with instructional technology is the key to success with all these strategies. If no plan exists, then a planning process should be initiated, broadly involving faculty, IT professionals, the library and media services. While adopting a cookie cutter approach of using other institution’s plans won’t help buy-in or meet unique needs, looking at others’ experiences can provide a place to start. One online planning resource is the Technoplanning site of Maricopa Community Colleges’ Center for Learning and Instruction ( This Web site lists guides to creating plans, formats and examples of plans, and other planning resources.

Joining the TLT Group ( listserv and roundtables is another way to begin using the strategies described above. TLT, which stands for Teaching and Learning with Technology, facilitates planning and implementation activities through campus roundtables, listserv discussion, an annual conference, and varied programs. Maricopa Community Colleges’ version of the TLT roundtable, named "Octotillo," publishes "Teaching and Learning on the WWW," a searchable collection of over 500 different uses of the web by instructors, organized by subject matter ( Armed with visions of the future and specific examples of possibilities, an institution can build a roadmap for how to use technology more effectively to support teaching and learning.

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